A strong 23, but big questions remain
Asian Cup squad - How Arnold deals with the loss of Chippers could be the key
SOCCEROOS boss Graham Arnold has done a pretty decent job in naming his 23 man squad for the AFC Asian Cup, but a couple of things still need addressing, most noteably the question of what to do on the left side of defence.
Missing three of the established stars in Moore, Chipperfield and Skoko, he has rewarded those that have been doing well in the green and gold of late - the likes of Kisnorbo, Valeri and Holman - and thrown in a couple of the A-League's match-breakers in Carle and Carney.
The selction of four A-Leaguers - Milligan and Thompson being the others - is a decent reward for those plying their trade at home, and sends out a message, as it should, that playing at home shouldn't hinder your chances of cracking the national squad, even if there is a clear need for more A-League games.
Indeed, Arnold could have gone further, in my opinion, by rewarding Central Coast custodian Danny Vukovic, who might now have to wait for the world cup qualifiers to prove he can cut it at this level.
Others from the local competition that will no doubt come under the microscope in the near future include the likes of Burns, Bridge, Djite, Pantelis, Sarkies, Spagnuolo, Musalik, Leijer, Allsopp and Joel Griffiths, but for now they must bide their time and continue to develop, much as Nick Carle has been doing for the past five or so years.
Deservedly, he gets his chance and one can only hope Arnold hasn't taken him along for the ride as he offers something totally different to the other attacking midfielders, Cahill and Holman, who are more the type to drive off the ball and pick up scraps in and around the box.
Carle, on the other hand, sits in the space between defensive midfield and attack, prefering the ball to feet, invariably keeping it alive, often with an outrageous killer final ball. He is more the creator than the goal-scorer, and might best be utilised feeding the likes of Aloisi and Thompson, who I would argue would relish his service.
Little doubt though that at attack featuring Viduka, with Kewell, Sterjovski, Bresciano and Cahill leading support, is the first choice at this stage.
But why not give Carle, Aloisi and Thompson some extended game-time off the bench, especially against Oman, and at some stage in the tournament he might be to unlock a packed defence.
Elsewhere, the choice of Carney is perhaps the most surprising and intriguing of the lot, surprising because he was left out of the match-day squad for Uruguay (perhaps Arnold felt he knew him well enough and wanted to see what Ryan Griffiths could offer? or perhaps Griffith's ineffective job off the bench made up Arnold's mind?) and intriguing because of the reasons Arnold gave for choosing him.
In his press-conference yesterday Arnold explained that he was looking to change Carney's role, possibly using him on the left, in a four man midfield, ahead of a back three and behind Kewell, who, given those comments, can expect to start on the left of a three man attack.
It was fascinatingly fortright from Arnold and shed light into his thinking around the problem left back area.
Hitherto, with Chipperfield in the fold, he hasn't had a problem - flat back four, with plenty of forward thrust from Emmo and Chippers.
Now that the latter isn't avaliable, it appears Arnold is toying with the option of a back three, with Neill central, flanked by twin stoppers in Kisnorbo and one from Beauchamp and Thwaites.
This, it would seem, is partly due to the unconvincing job Thwaites did at left back against Uruguay, and the fact we have no natural successor to the Swiss-based wingback.
Whatever way Arnold goes at the back, at least it shows he is thinking and questioning, further signs of the lessons learnt under Hiddink.
How well he handles Chipperfield's absence will probably decide how far this team goes. His ability to adapt and think on his feet will be tested.
There has been concern in some quarters that only six defenders have been chosen, and Spiranovic might have been unlucky, but with Milligan and Wilkshire around, there are alternatives.
The selection of Valeri as back-up for Grella is clever, for this area is arguably the most vital part of the midfield engine, and the need for alternatives in the event of an injury or suspension are crucial.
More strange is the saga over Scott McDonald and whether he wanted to play for the green and gold or the green and white hoops. To the Australian audience, during Fox's coverage of the Uruguay game, it was firmly for the former. But the message out of Scotland was more clouded later in the week.
Then Arnold went on the record claiming him to be the number three striker behind Dukes and Aloisi but that it would benefit him, Australia and Celtic if he stayed behind for pre-season training. He then added him to the standby list. It was all strange stuff, and time will be the judge.
Overall though it has been a decent job by Arnold, but the hard work starts now. Getting this squad physically, mentally and tactically ready is a part of it, but the hardest job will be to make the tough decisions, like who to leave out of the starting 11 at any given time.
As Hiddink proved when he left Kewell out of the 11 in the 2nd leg against Uruguay and Cahill in the world cup opener against Japan, reputations shouldn't cloud judgement.
He also has to make a call on the captaincy, and his explaination yesterday wasn't the most convincing start.
Paraphrased, he spoke of how well a job Viduka had done but that he might be leaning another way for Singapore and Thailand. Then he appeared to go back to Viduka. It was puzzling stuff, but at least kept us guessing.
Perhaps the modern trend of a job-share is in the offing?
Either way, we wish Arnold and his 23 all the best in their first Asian venture. It is a very strong squad, certainly strong enough to go a long way, but Arnold has to prove he can pull the right punches at the right times.
So what did you make of Arnold's 23? and how do you think they'll fair next month? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.